- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 16, 2018

PHOENIX (AP) - Five football players at an Arizona high school claimed in a lawsuit Wednesday that coaches and administrators knew upperclassmen were physically and sexually abusing them in hazing rituals but did nothing to stop it or punish their attackers.

The lawsuit said the attacks at Hamilton High School in Chandler continued because officials failed to confront the problem and instead dismissed complaints from students and parents.

The civil case was filed three months after prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against principal Ken James, athletic director Shawn Rustad and head football coach Steve Belles. Prosecutors said some players who said they were victimized and their parents declined to cooperate with investigators.

Prosecutors have said criminal cases against two of the three students charged in the scandal have already been resolved in juvenile court, but they declined to provide details. Another student, whose name is being withheld by The Associated Press because he is a juvenile, still faces child molestation and other charges in adult court.

Some players described the conduct as hazing, but authorities said some sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults took place. Some assaults were recorded and posted on social media, according to police reports.

The lawsuit was filed against James, Rustad, Belles, assistant coach Manual Palomarez, the school, its school district and 10 players who are accused of taking part in the alleged abuse.

The Chandler Unified School District, which includes Hamilton High School, declined to comment on the lawsuit. James, Rustad and Palomarez didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

“Steve Belles never did anything wrong,” said Jack Wilenchik, a lawyer who represented Belles earlier in the investigation. “We trust the courts will do the right thing.”

The incidents occurred from 2015 through 2017 as young players were promoted to the varsity team. In some, upperclassmen forced down the pants of younger players. In one instance, an upperclassman simulated a sexual act on a younger player, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Palomarez witnessed a portion of one such attack in January 2017 when he walked into a locker room but took no action.

The five students who filed the lawsuit are seeking unspecified damages for the trauma they say they have suffered.

James, Rustad and Belles have been reassigned to other jobs within the school district.

Palomarez continues working as a teacher at Hamilton High School.


Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://bit.ly/2GGWEPO.

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